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The intersection of justice, liberty, and civil legal aid.

The month of July in America is often associated with freedom and liberty as the country celebrates its independence on July 4th. But this year, I cannot help but think about where we are as a country and the many systems in America that have racism ingrained into their culture. The same liberty and justice we celebrate every July often neglects and evades those from marginalized communities.

Our work at the DC Bar Foundation intentionally challenges these ideals to ensure that freedom and justice apply to everyone, not only those with wealth, knowledge, power, or racial privileges.

One of the gravest issues facing DC residents is systemic racism that permeates institutions that should provide life-giving services. The Wellbeing Blueprint—developed by the Full Frame Initiative, an organization reimagining systems to make our country fairer and more equitable for everyone—is a framework designed to help us transform the civil legal aid network to advance equity and justice. The Blueprint is based on five domains that prioritize one’s wellbeing, which is at the center of promoting a more just civil legal aid system. It prioritizes people, communities, and understanding what every person needs to thrive.

Last year, the DC Bar Foundation began using the Wellbeing Blueprint to guide our approach to building equitable systems. The five domains of the framework include:

  1. Social connectedness to people and community in ways that allow us to give as well as to receive.

  2. Stability that comes from having things we can count on to be the same from day to day and knowing that a small bump won't set off a domino effect of crises.

  3. Safety and the ability to be ourselves without significant harm.

  4. Mastery feeling that we can influence what happens to us and having the skills to navigate and negotiate life.

  5. Meaningful access to relevant resources to meet our basic needs without shame, danger, or greater difficulty.

Over the last year, DCBF has used this as a guide to help us create networks and initiatives that will allow marginalized DC residents to live and thrive in their communities, including:

  • The DC Legal Aid Transformations Network (DCLATN). This network of legal aid community activists, health and social service, allied partners, academia, government, philanthropy, media, banking, faith-based, arts, business, and other stakeholders, works together to ensure the legal aid system in DC is accessible and seamless for all clients. Its purpose is to advance a user-centered system, grounded in fostering wellbeing and anti-racism and anti-poverty, starting with creating a coordinated intake and referral system in DC and evolving into a “network of networks” for connectivity, alignment, and action. We meet quarterly to increase collaboration and transform the delivery of legal aid in the District, with the next convening taking place on September 14th. Check the DC Legal Aid Transformations Network page in the coming weeks for registration information.

  • Coordinated Intake and Referral (CIR). CIR is a streamlined process for DC residents to access legal aid through a single phone number or website. This coordinated system, set to launch in late 2024, will require our legal aid community to work together and in partnership with other stakeholders throughout DC to create a system that puts the client first and makes processes more seamless. The work began in the summer of 2020 and continues through our quarterly DCLATN meetings. A newly formed subnetwork of intake specialists will provide another opportunity to meet and connect. (Their next meetings will be on August 5th and August 19th at 11 AM.) Be sure to join our Slack channel for updates on all the subnetworks and everything related to CIR.

  • Racial Equity Training 2.0. This five-part training series included more than 25 participants from 14 DCBF grantee organizations. Over the course of five weeks from mid-March to early April 2022, participants learned about the fundamentals of facilitation for racial justice work. In 2021, DCBF partnered with Service Never Sleeps to host the inaugural Racial Equity Training, which covered white supremacy, building equity, bias and microagressions, allyship, and other key areas.

  • Participatory Grantmaking. In July 2021 and July 2022, the DC Bar Foundation partnered with Bread for the City to host community listening sessions as part of a participatory grantmaking process where District residents decided where to direct funding in their community.

Wellbeing is the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy. When communities and people encounter hurdles or experience racism when trying to access services, their wellbeing is compromised. The Foundation's work—through network building, community engagement, evaluation, prioritization of racial equity, and greater coordination within the legal aid community—are steps toward dismantling systems and eliminating the challenges that prevent DC residents from experiencing wellbeing, justice, and liberty in the civil legal aid system.


Kirra L. Jarratt

CEO, DC Bar Foundation


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